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History Of The Indian Act (Part Two)

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1978      v08 n04 p20  
During the last ten years there have been extensive discussions across Canada to consider ways and means to revise the Indian Act so that it will preserve and also advance Indian rights. Since the Indian Act is a rather technical document, however, it is difficult for non-lawyers to understand the Act in its legalistic style. It is therefore helpful to have some understanding of basic legal and historical influences which have caused Indian rights to be as they are today.

The purpose of this lecture is to try to reflect only the highlights, and not to dwell in great detail on any one issue. Perhaps with this background, the Indian Act discussions on revisions will be assisted and speeded up.


  1. It is the only legislation in the world designed for a particular race of people.
  2. It was made by Parliament and not by Indian people.
  3. Because Parliament is supreme in Canada, it can therefore change the Act without consultation with Indians.
  4. Indian peoples' weapons against revision without their input is through provincial and national Indian organizations.
  5. The Act is basically not the source of substantive or basic Indian rights; it merely tells how to administrate.
  6. The Act has, however, been used through the courts, to erode substantive Indian rights.
  7. The Act does, however, have certain provisions which preserve Indian rights.
  8. There have been various other Federal Acts dealing with Indians since the early 1800's.
  9. All these Acts down to the present one have been consistent in their goals of assimilation, integration and eventual abolition of reserves and of special rights for Indians.


Before 1947, the Federal Government had never consulted with Indian bands on any proposed legislation or amendments which would directly affect them. But in 1947 and 1948, the Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons met with Indian delegations from across Canada with a view to discussing changes in the Indian Act which was then largely the same as the one in 1880. Unfortunately, these consultations were not taken seriously by the Government of Canada. The resulting 1951 Indian Act therefore did not differ significantly. As a matter of fact, the process toward total assimilation of Indians was continued without change. To that end, S.87 (now S.88) was added which would allow "provincial laws of general application" to apply to Indians. An example of such a law is the Highway Traffic Act. Another one would be the Game Act.

In 1966, the Hawthorn Report recommended that there should be a thorough consultation between the Government of Canada and the Indians. It, however, also recommended that the provinces should manage all services for Indian people at the earliest possible time.

Extensive consultation meetings were held in 1968 across Canada but to no available. In fact, in 1969, Jean Chretien, then newly appointed Minister of Indian Affairs, brought down his statement of policy (better known as the White Paper) - the gist of which was to implement a policy of termination which would put an end to the special constitutional status that Indian people have in this country. The Red Paper represented by the Indian Association of Alberta forcefully articulated total rejection of it. All Canadian provincial and territorial organizations supported this stand. To simply do away with the Indian Act was not the answer. The answer was to revise the Act.

Thereafter, Indian organizations advised the Federal Government that if the Indian Act was going to be changed, they wanted to be completely and intimately involved in the process. As part of the process, in 1973, the National Indian Brotherhood requested the Indian Association of Alberta to draft a new Indian Act on behalf of other indian organizations. This was done and presented to the National Indian Brotherhood Assembly of provincial presidents in Truro, Nova Scotia in 1975. It was, however, rejected because it was still largely administrative and regulatory. It was considered desirable to have an Indian Act which would contain basic Indian rights.

Accordingly, a new structure was set up consisting of a Joint Federal Cabinet and National Indian Brotherhood Committee. The function of this Committee would be to work out basic changes to the Act and then present the finished product to the full Cabinet. The advantage of this model would be that Indians would have a direct pipeline into the heart of the Federal Government. Part of this process would be to have each province contribute to the eventual Indian Act revisions. This was to be done through the use of liaison people who would visit each community in the province and explain the Act and all its related issues.

The particular process that is followed in Saskatchewan is as follows:

1.   Four people have been hired; and

History Of The Indian Act (Part Two)

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1978      v08 n04 p20  
2.   Two more seconded from other departments in the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians.
3.   These individuals will visit communities and hold workshops and explain the Indian Act Provisions in order to develop a greater understanding among Indian people.
4.   Radio programs, will discuss different aspects of the Act.
5.   A supplement dealing with the Act will then be sent to every Indian in the province.

In order for this process to work, it is necessary that bands contact one of the following to arrange a meeting:

Rodney Soonias
410 Cumberland Ave. N.
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Willie Bellegarde
1715 South Railway Street
Regina, Saskatchewan

Aubrey Goforth
1715 South Railway Street
Regina, Saskatchewan

Ken Sparvier
Broadview, Saskatchewan

Cy Standing
P.O. Box 1644
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

Next the "Sources of Indian Rights" -

(a) Aboriginal rights
(b) Treaties
(c) B.N.A. Act
(d) Indian Act